Wow … the Ancestral Health symposium turned out to be one great conference! The conference videos are being posted, as are the speaker presentations, so check them out. In the meantime, here are my top of mind comments after the event.
First things first, I want to echo Chris Masterjohn’s comments re the name of the event: ancestral is both a bigger tent and more intuitive than paleo and it’s not specific to a particular point in history. As Chris says, ancestral as a term “allows us to put as much of an importance on our grandparents as on our (great)345-grandparents.” Word!
I’d had a tiny bit of angst before the event. I’d been telling friends that I expected that of the 600 attendees, 590 would be under 30 with single-digit body fat. Well, it wasn’t quite like that, but I was still quite the outlier. Fortunately people were kind and didn’t point any fingers ;). Here’s Stephan Guyenet’s description of the crowd:
I was very impressed by the appearance of the attendees. Young men and women were fit with glowing skin, and older attendees were energetic and aging gracefully. It would be hard to come up with a better advertisement for ancestrally-oriented diets and lifestyles.
Alas, I was certainly older, but I was most definitely not energetic. In fact, while I had managed my goal re weight loss before the event, I was nowhere near where I wanted to be mobility-wise. In fact, I had not anticipated some of the non-working elevators at UCLA, and those coupled with my lack of progress wrt my sciatic pain made for a real hardship for me. I missed out on a lot of opportunities to hang out and network. Hope to get that fixed real soon!
But aside from me, the attendees were quite the diverse lot, and I wasn’t the only one on the plus side of the weight bell curve. Nor were age and weight the only continuums — conference garb ran the gamut including one kilt and of course, a variety of footwear (I was surprised to see a ding on the Twitter feed re women in high heels … hey, let’s keep the judgement to a minimum, ‘kay?).
When the conference was first announced, I thought the planners were out of their mind. UCLA in August? Hello, Hades! As it turns out, the weather was gorgeous … far, far nicer than it’s been in DC.
My mobility issues aside, UCLA turned out to be a great place for the event. First, it certainly must have contributed to keeping the conference fees low. The schlep on Friday between the two buildings (necessitated presumably by switching from the plenary to dual track schedule late in the game) wasn’t in the cards for me, but was no problem for nearly everyone else.
Also, no surprise, but the AV at the event was fabulous. I saw only one minor glitch during Stephan’s event, but that may have been a laptop charge issue and was resolved quickly.
Aside from the horrendous traffic, LA proved to be a great destination … and I agree with Melissa that next year, we need an extra day for more sun and fun. And like others who’ve commented, flying Virgin America to LA was da bomb!
And now for my conference roundup; in general, I’m gonna be brief since you’ll be able to watch all of these presentations for yourself soon.
Friday AM — Founding Fathers
To kick off the day, we got to hear from paleo’s big names. Interestingly, the buzz around Boyd Eaton during and after was about his presentation’s politics. I suppose that’s to be expected when at one point, the presenter says, “I mean, I’m no communist but …”
So, the Twitter stream erupted, and someone made a comment re the paleo movement’s tilt to the right. I knew all about the libertarian bent among many in the paleo blogosphere, but wouldn’t have presumed it necessarily meant the movement as a whole were more right than the population. Ah well, as a card-carrying bleeding heart liberal, just one more reason I’m an outlier! And for the record, I tended to agree with Eaton’s views on wealth disparity.
Loren Cordain was great, but I was just a tad disappointed that he recycled the presentation he’s been giving for years; seems like a missed opportunity. That said, it was a good foundation for the rest of the event, especially for the many newbies (many who were UCLA students).
I really enjoyed Staffan Lindeberg. As Emily Deans noted, Dr. Lindeberg is both a researcher and a practicing MD, so he had a great perspective. Curiously, he led off his presentation with some comments that suggested there was an interesting backstory re his LCHF compatriots in Sweden.
We closed out the AM with Robb Wolf, or as someone on the Twitter stream called him, Paleo’s baby Jesus ;).
Via the fine folks at Fitbomb, here’s the highlight of Robb’s talk:
Science. It works, bitches.
Friday PM — Guyenet vs Taubes
Lynda Frassetto did an interesting presentation on research she’s been doing on how a paleo diet can ward off kidney disease.
Stephan Guyenet did a fab job explaining his food reward hypothesis. I was a bit surprised by his attire (suit coat and jacket) given the very dressed-down nature of the event, but Aaron Blaisdell cleared it up: he was wearing his postdoc uniform ;).
Gary Taubes spoke after Stephan. His presentation was the PPT version of his recent NY Times article on sugar & cancer. He makes a compelling case, but I don’t get the ego given he’s admitted he’s not been able to keep up with the science on leptin etc.
Mike Eades followed Taubes. Interestingly both Eades and Taubes addressed the “if carbs are the problem, explain the Kitivans and Asians” question with different answers. For Taubes, carbs are a problem after you wrecked your metabolism and it was sugar that was the villain. For Eades, populations who apparently tolerated carbs were like folks who smoked til their 90s — they exist, but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
Dr. Eades also made an interesting point re roles that the pancreas and liver play in regulating blood glucose levels. I’ll update this when I can review the video and get it correct, but the idea is that the liver can fine-tune blood sugar levels better than the pancreas can (the liver keeps swings, i.e. the AUC, lower than the pancreas does). That said, even if true, I don’t know that this means that eating VLC is necessary — and according to Eades’ comment re eating croissants in Paris, it’s clear he and his wife go off VLC occasionally.
Saturday AM — All science, a little play
First up on Saturday was Robert Lustig. This was one of my favorite presentations for a variety of reasons; I wound up taking 10 crappy pics at the conference with my iPhone, 6 of them were Lustig’s slides (which turned out wasn’t necessary since he shared his slides … duh!).
I loved the idea re the intertwining role between insulin and leptin, but I was a tad concerned with the role that pharma played in Lustig’s research. If there’s a role that elevated insulin plays wrt leptin resistance, I’d be far more interested in ways that diet and exercise can be used to resolve this. But maybe that’s just me.
There was also a little Lustig v Feinman drama at the event. Feinman questioned Lustig’s biochem creds during the Q&A after Taubes’ presentation (which I saw) leading to Lustig’s introductory comments. Lustig apparently had a few of his own remarks at Feinman’s presentation (which I didn’t see). I don’t think it got to Taubes’ rudeness level (stay tuned for the video!), but am hoping that these two gentlemen wind up keeping up their conversation; we’re all likely to benefit.
[Side note: Stephan has an interesting comment over on Melissa’s blog re Lustig’s presentation.]
[Side note 2: my little "n=1" experiment has resulted in a very, very noticeable lack of both appetite & hunger. I've thought it plausible that this means that my necessarily high leptin levels are now coming thru loud and clear now that I'm not overriding them via high carbs (insulin) and processed food (appetite regulators like dopamine etc).]
Next, I finally got to experience the Kraken: Mat LaLonde. Mat looks like Seth Green and sounds like Stephen Hawking. Oh, the science! According to the Twitter stream, there was some concern his message was lost as a result of the heavy-duty bio-chemistry.
Well yes, the bio-chemistry was way over the heads of many attendees (myself included), but I’m not sure the message — wanna be taken seriously, present real science — was. Sounded loud and clear to me (especially the part he kept repeating about looking like an idiot if you didn’t).
There were two things that really resonated with me in Mat’s talk. The first was something my fellow NTA students would love … the concept of bio-individuality. Secondly, the idea that writing off entire food groups, like grains and legumes, was premature.
Next up was Mark Sisson. Now this is probably heresy, but I was just a tad disappointed by Mark’s talk on play. Don’t get me wrong, Mark’s Daily Apple is a regular read and Mark is a fabulous presenter. But the session on play just felt like a Sesame Street “one of these things is not like the others.” Mark commented that he chose play after deciding that diet and exercise were going to be well covered by conference luminaries. Me, I wound up wishing he’d picked something else a little more (pardon the pun) meaty. And that’s not to say that play isn’t important, but this topic just didn’t do it for me. Your mileage may vary!
One of my must-see presentations was by Nora Gedgaudas. I was very much looking forward to this (and not just because she sat next to me Friday AM and we got a chance to chat!) and Nora didn’t disappoint. Her presentation was awfully content-filled; I did see a comment on the Twitter stream about the heaviness of it (lots of reading) and of course, the high carbers were not fans of what they called her carb “hyperbole” (as a carb agnostic and Nora fan, I overlooked much of that).
One of the highlights for me from Nora’s presentation was her idea that paleo needed to be a starting point regarding optimal health, not an endpoint. And that because Grok ate meat doesn’t necessarily mean that big honking slabs of meat are ideal either. I also found the idea of paleo CRON intriguing.
Saturday PM — I start to fade
At this point, I was starting to lose energy. So, thinking about the video presentations awaiting me at home later, I chose to get a good laugh after lunch and spend 45 minutes with Tom Naughton, who presented his low-carb cruise talk on bad science. Two comments: 1) it’s a good presentation, I laughed! and 2) watching Brent Pottenger eat a double-double protein-style burger from In-n-Out during Tom’s presentation was partly responsible for my leaving the conference early (really … my bad).
Next up was Vivian Shelton, a psychologist who talked about evolutionary bariatrics. I was psyched for this presentation both for the topic and for the fact that Vivian lives a stone’s throw from me. Vivian’s presentation may have been the “I think I can, I think I can” slot at the event. First, many of the attendees were probably not interested in the topic … they are all about achieving the highest level of fitness, not about getting schlubs like me healthy.
And I don’t know if it was the room or being so up, close and personal with luminaries (both Feinman and Lustig were in attendance), but I got the vibe that Vivian had a major case of the nerves during her talk. But whether or not the average conference-goer was into it, the concept of evolutionary bariatrics is extremely promising IMO and she’s poised to be one of the field’s luminaries in the future.
Next up for me was Andreas Eenfeldt, the mile-high LCHF diet doc from Sweden. Eenfeldt is a great presenter and this was an interesting session, though I’m still the carb agnostic I was at the start of the conference (going LC may work, I just am reluctant to believe it’s required).
My final session of the conference was Doug McGuff. I’ve been doing his Body by Science since the spring so while I was not particularly into the fitness sessions in general, I felt I couldn’t miss this.
Dr. McGuff was sitting behind me at Vivian Shelton’s session, so I took the opportunity at the end to say thanks for his BBS directory (it’s how I found my trainer). I mentioned my weight loss and improvement in fasting insulin and was tickled that he reached out to shake my hand (alright, so I’m a school girl #groupie).
Re his presentation, I kinda prefer the one he gave to the 21 Convention, but the message is the same. BBS or other slow burn protocols are awesome ways to get fit with a reduced rate of injury (stay tuned for September when I’ll see if doing BBS has helped reduce my fasting insulin even more).
Regrets, I have a few
Aside from my mobility problems (would have loved to have done the post-conference MovNat Emily Deans raved about), one of my biggest regrets had to be not connecting with some of the folks I’d really wanted to meet, especially Emily, Paul Jaminet and Melissa McEwen.
Another was that Kurt Harris wasn’t able to attend. Others were bummed that Art DeVany and Nassim Taleb had schedule conflicts, but I’ve been a Kurt Harris fan for a while, so was sorry to miss him (and I’m glad to see he’s commenting on other sites; hope he gets back to his blog soon!).
See you next year!
So, yes Virginia, the conference was great. But don’t just take my word for it. Here are reviews from my regular reads:
- Emily Deans
- Stephan Guyenet
- Paul Jaminet
- Chris Masterjohn
- Melissa McEwen
- J Stanton
- and lots more at Free the Animal
I’ll just wrap this up by saying I’m very happy to have been an inaugural attendee at Ancestral Health and I look forward to AHS12 (tho I do think they would be well served by alternating coasts … hint hint … maybe now that Brent Pottenger will be at Johns Hopkins?).
Update, 8/10: Hey! I made it into one of Jolly’s fab pics. But you’ll have to squint ;).